There is interest in the role of iron in age-related diseases such as atherosclerosis. Tissue iron deposition could be harmful, because Fe(2+) can react with H(2)O(2) to form OH(-) radicals and Fe(2+) can react with O(2) to form reactive oxygen species. Free radicals react with cell membranes and cell organelles and could lead to the development of atherosclerosis by initiating lipid peroxidation. Hereditary hemochromatosis provides an opportunity for studying the effects of iron on cardiovascular disease. Some studies have shown that individuals who carried HFE mutations may be at greater risk of developing coronary heart disease than those without the mutations. In contrast, a large number of studies have reported no association between HFE mutations and coronary heart disease. These studies have possible confounding factors, such as the homogeneity of the population in term of geographical origin among others. We studied the relation between HFE mutations and acute myocardial infarction in two case-control studies involving two sets of subjects representing different age groups from different geographic regions in Italy. The first one was composed of 172 older patients (139 males and 33 females; mean age 67) and 207 healthy controls (91 males and 116 females; mean age 46) from Emilia-Romagna. The second one was composed of younger 77 patients (75 males and 2 females; mean age 41) and 172 healthy controls (75 males and 97 females, mean age: 38) from Sicily. All patients were genotyped for ApoE alleles, since the ApoE- epsilon 4 allele is considered a risk factor for cardiovascular diseases and can interfere with other genetic and environmental factors by modifying susceptibility to this disease. DNA typing for C282Y and H63D HFE alleles was performed also. There were no significant differences in frequencies of the different HFE alleles between acute myocardial infarction patients and controls in cohorts of both old and young patients. Also taking into account the presence or absence of the ApoE- epsilon 4 allele, no significant differences in H63D allele frequencies were observed. Thus, our study, performed in two samples of genetically homogeneous patients and controls, does not support the suggestion that HFE mutations may be associated with acute myocardial infarction in susceptible individuals.